Abstract: "Doing Hope": Ecofeminist Spirituality Provides Emotional Sustenance Necessary for Confronting the Climate Crisis (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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688P "Doing Hope": Ecofeminist Spirituality Provides Emotional Sustenance Necessary for Confronting the Climate Crisis

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Finn Bell, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Mary Kate Dennis, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Glory Brar, BA, Alumni, University of Michigan, MI
Background and Purpose: A barrier to taking action to address environmental crises caused by our changing global environment is the intense difficult emotions that many experience when reckoning with the seriousness of our crises, particularly the paralysis that often comes with despair. Cultivating hope for a better climate future is central to achieving that future, but to do so, hope must be based in action, rather than used solely as a strategy to manage difficult emotions.

Ecofeminist spirituality directly addresses these issues through a form of environmental stewardship that offers hope and healing for the world. Better understanding how people who are deeply engaged in this form of activism deal with their emotions could be essential in understanding how to emotionally equip people to address the climate crisis. Thus, we ask: What does an ecofeminist spiritual approach lend to fortifying the emotional work needed to confront the climate crisis?

Methods: The ecojustice center wherein this research took place was founded in the 1990s by an order of Roman Catholic sisters and is located in the rural midwestern United States. We used purposive sampling to recruit 14 people involved with the center with whom we conducted semi-structured interviews, informed by grounded theory. The participants predominantly identified as cisgender women, with only three identifying as cisgender men. All but two of the interviewees were white. Three interviewees were Catholic nuns, two were associate members of a Catholic order, and the rest were lay people with no affiliation to a religious order. The oldest participant was born in 1931, and the youngest in 1993. We used NVIVO to conduct thematic analysis to identify, analyze, and report themes from the data.

Results: We identified three main themes that collectively describe the participants’ perspectives on: a) experiences of difficult feelings, b) strategies for coping with those feelings, and c) cultivating hope. The coping strategies that participants identified fell into three main categories: taking action, finding community, and practicing diverse spiritualities. By using these strategies, participants were able to cope with difficult emotions related to the environment and cultivate hope that the work they are doing matters, which was essential to sustaining that work.

Conclusions and Implications: While every participant reported struggling with despair at times, they also identified key coping mechanisms that helped them continue their environmental work. In their description of both their coping strategies and their emotional experiences, they make clear that hope is a practice that must be cultivated, rather than a passive feeling. As social workers create responses to the changing global environment, understanding how to sustain environmental work at the macro-level is essential to addressing the large-scale problems at hand, but in order to do so, we must understand how to attend to the difficult emotions that such problems evoke at the micro-level. Findings from this study can help in designing meso-level ecofeminist interventions that encourage people to take action, find community, and practice diverse spiritualities.